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Three Days That Defined Russ Rose’s First 40 Years At Penn State

Russ Rose needs no introduction. The only women’s volleyball coach in NCAA history to win seven national championships, Rose is rightfully considered one of the greatest to ever wear a whistle — regardless of the sport.

This weekend, fans and former players will descend upon Rec Hall to celebrate Rose’s 40th season as head coach of the Nittany Lions. His all-time record is a staggering 1,249-198 entering Friday’s match against Temple.

For those counting at home, that amounts to a ridiculous 86.3 winning percentage since he took the job as a 25-year-old in 1979. Rose also rocked quite the mustache back in those days.

Under Rose, Penn State is one of only two programs to successfully qualify for all 37 NCAA tournaments, joining Stanford. The Cardinal tied Penn State’s record for the most national titles with its seventh in 2016.

Rose, who was inducted into the AVCA Hall of Fame in 2007, sat on his honorary alumnus bench outside Rec Hall this week — as he does every Tuesday during the season — and reflected on the past four decades.

“I would say then and I’ll say now, it’s just not about me. It’s about the players, it’s about the administrators who have supported the program, it’s about the coaches that have worked in our program and the other programs that I’ve been able to interact with over the 40 years that I’ve been here that have mentored me, educated me, and allowed me to shape how I wanted to run my program at Penn State. I’m pleased that I’ve been able to do it my way. I guess that’s probably how I look at it. The climate and culture’s a lot different right now in college athletics than it was 40 years ago, for sure.”

Here are three days that have defined Rose’s career to date:

Dec. 18, 1999 (Honolulu)

After advancing to the national championship in 1997 and 1998 only to lose in five sets both times, Rose’s Nittany Lions finally won their first NCAA title the following year, sweeping Stanford in decisive fashion.

Senior middle blocker Lauren Cacciamani led the team to victory with a match-high 20 kills and eight digs in the finale. She shared national player of the year honors with Stanford’s Kerri Walsh, who would go on to win three Olympic gold medals in beach volleyball.

You can check out the last few points of Penn State’s victory below. This was before the implementation of the 25-point rally scoring system, when sets were played to 15 and only the serving team could earn points. Plus, how about those collared jerseys?

Dec. 18, 2010 (Kansas City)

Eleven years later to the day, Rose’s squad claimed its fourth national championship in a row and fifth total at the Sprint Center. The Nittany Lions swept Cal Berkeley behind a combined 34 kills from senior Blair Brown and freshman Deja McClendon, who was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player.

It was the fourth consecutive season Penn State had beaten the Golden Bears in the NCAA tournament. During the four-year title run, Rose’s Nittany Lions went on an astounding 109-match winning streak that rarely saw them drop a set.

Rose’s 1,000th win came on Dec. 17, 2009 in Tampa when Penn State beat Hawaii 3-1 in the NCAA semifinals. The Nittany Lions would outlast Texas 3-2 in the national championship two days later.

Dec. 20, 2014 (Oklahoma City)

Penn State’s seventh national championship proved to be quite the story. Not only did the program enter uncharted territory with its sweep of BYU, but senior setter Micha Hancock had the opportunity to finish her college career on top just 14 miles from where she grew up in Edmond, OK.

The 2014 team featured eight freshmen, just like this year’s squad, but a veteran core of program greats like Hancock, Dominique Gonzalez, Nia Grant, Aiyana Whitney, and Megan Courtney provided the leadership necessary to get the job done.

Despite losing three All-Americans to graduation the previous year, the Nittany Lions showed why Penn State volleyball should never be counted out. Gonzalez sent her teammates pouring onto the floor thanks to a service ace on match point.

Rose’s career accolades are truly something special, though he never boasts about such things. Instead, he gladly turns the attention to his players, who come to Penn State to learn from one of the greatest coaches of all time, but leave having accomplished far more than they ever could have expected.

So far, he’s had 44 different All-Americans and 191 Academic All-Big Ten selections.

Rose cares about the people his players become in the real world just as much, if not more, than he does about winning championships. The pressure to compete with programs like Penn State means today’s generation of coaches can often get caught up in trying to keep their job rather than molding model citizens.

Rose, who always keeps his own stats, credited Penn State coaches like Rich Lorenzo, Tom Tait, Chuck Medlar, and Joe Paterno with making an important impact on him early in his time at the university. On Tuesday, Rose fondly remembered his early morning golf rounds with the former football coaches back when he was the youngest coach at Penn State.

Rose watches attentively as Simone Lee hammers home a kill against Indiana in 2017.

Rose’s setter this season, redshirt senior Bryanna Weiskircher, said his dry sense of humor was one of the things that initially drew her to State College — mixed in, of course, with all the other benefits of playing for a coach of his caliber.

“Obviously Russ is an absolute legend,” Weiskircher said. “He’s created this Penn State volleyball tradition and culture from the ground up and I think it’s incredible being able to play for him…He wants you to be the best player you can be and best person you can be. Because Penn State volleyball pushes you to the point where you don’t think you can do it but you do, everything else in the world is a piece of cake from here.”

The sixth-ranked Nittany Lions (3-0) welcome Temple and Texas A&M to Rec Hall this weekend as part of the Penn State Invitational. Friday night’s match is scheduled for 7:30, while the Aggies await on Saturday at 8 p.m. following the football game. Be sure to arrive early to celebrate coach Rose’s 40th season.

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About the Author

Ethan Kasales

Ethan’s a senior journalism major who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. When he’s not covering Penn State sports, you can usually find him golfing or teaching snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. Feel free to email him at [email protected].

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